Well, the holidays are here, and I am going through the usual movie list that moves me into the spirit of the season. To be a little contrary, and not list all of the typical movies that make everyone’s list, I’m going to list my top favorite Thanksgiving and Christmas television episodes.
6. Cheers - “Thanksgiving Orphans” S5E9
We all have heard the theme song. Maybe some of you have watched the television show, but I assume a lot of people are not all that familiar with this 34-year-old sitcom. Yes, that’s how long ago this series first came on TV.
Unlike many sitcoms of its era, Cheers rarely aired holiday themed shows. In fact, I believe most of the seasons, if referencing the holidays at all, would do a Thanksgiving episode and end it there. Which is fine by me, but it does mean that there are a limited number of episodes to pick from if you’re feeling you needs some Holiday Cheer(s)... heh.
I highly recommend this episode, because it’s another rarity for where it is set: Carla’s (Rhea Perlman) home, not at the bar. The main cast all comes together to celebrate the holiday, basically because they have nowhere else to go. It’s the last season with Diane (Shelley Long), and the food fight crescendo is a fantastically funny ending.
Another tidbit about this episode is it’s the first, and the only appearance of Norm’s (George Wendt) wife and in a true Frasier-esque fashion we never see her face.
5. Home Improvement - “I’m Scheming of a White Christmas” S2E12
I honestly had a hard time picking which one of these to list. Out of the first five seasons of Home Improvement, each holiday episode is fantastic. And since they truly embraced their Michigan setting they had a plethora of episodes set in a cold, snowy season.
This particular episode I chose because it was an early season of the show. It’s a bit rawer and faithful to the characters before the sitcom became a bit too “comfortable” in its skin. Tim Taylor (Tim Allen) decides that it’s time to light up his house and pull out the Christmas decorations in the only way he knows how… with More Power! The children come up with a scheme to take toys from a local charity they are working for and shenanigans ensue, with a sweet life lesson at the end.
Cheesy at times, the children can be hard to watch, but how can you not laugh at Tim Allen hurting himself and blowing holes in walls?
4. Married With Children - “It’s A Bundyful Life (Parts 1&2)” S4E11&12
Next, we come to a two-parter. Al Bundy (Ed O’Neill) finally has the money to get his family Christmas presents, but cannot get to the bank in time to retrieve the cash. Going home to tell his family, Al is faced with death when electrocuted by the Christmas lights that were put up.
He meets his own Guardian Angel played by the late great Sam Kinison, who is just playing a version of his stage self. He is a loud, crude Angel who hated life and has problems with a cheating wife and shows little to no mercy for Al. He takes him to a what life would be like without him, and it turns out his family is getting on pretty good. In fact, they are living so well he can’t take it; Al decides he needs to live, making sure his family won't have it so good. Great spin on the movie It’s A Wonderful Life, and comedy nerds should check this one out to see Sam Kinison in one of his last appearances before death.
Another tidbit about this episode is Ted McGinley who would, later on, join the cast as Jefferson Darcy has a brief appearance as the perfect husband Peggy (Katey Sagal) would have if Al had never existed.
3. 30 Rock - “Christmas Attack Zone” S5E10
Finally, a more modern day show. I’m sorry, but I’m a bit obsessed with older television if any of you have yet to wonder.
30 Rock is one of the most brilliant, funny and spectacularly written television shows of the last two decades, in my humble opinion. It ran from 2006-13 and never really became much more than a cult favorite while on the air. Now, thanks to things like Netflix, etc. it has become a staple for modern comedy television.
In this episode, Liz (Tina Fey) refuses to go home for the holidays, and instead goes to Jack’s (Alec Baldwin) house with his visiting Mother (Elaine Stritch) and estranged Father (Alan Alda). Jack has planned to shock his mother with the fact he knows all about his estranged father, planning a sort of emotional coup on the woman. It’s a great build-up, has an incredible twist and has some great guest starring roles, my main favorite being the recurring character Paul (Will Forte).
In a funny B-Plot role, Tracy (Tracy Morgan) with the help of Kenneth (Jack McBrayer) explore the fine line Tracy now has to walk while being an award-winning actor. Can he still do films with fart jokes? Or must he be an all-black-wearing, straight-faced ac-tor(!)?
Well, watch and find out.
2. South Park - “Red Sleigh Down” S6E17
Another show with too many fantastic holiday-themed episodes to list. But here is one of my favorites.
Cartman, to redeem himself for all his evil deeds of the year, decides to bring Christmas to Iraq. With another notable appearance of Mr. Hankey the Christmas Poo, and his Poo-Choo Train, the boys undergo a journey to the North Pole hoping Santa will join their quest in spreading Christmas joy. Santa accepts the mission but is shot down, captured and promptly tortured by Iraqi militants.
The only way for the boys to get Santa back is by enlisting the help of Jesus, who suits up, grabs some big ass guns and heads to the middle-east to rescue Santa.
In usual South Park style, the episode is littered with foul language, twisting the sacred and making it hysterical while doing so. Oh yeah, and one last thing: Jimmy attempts to sing the 12 Days of Christmas as the b-plot throughout the entire episode. Watch it, re-watch and enjoy.
1. The Simpsons - “Marge Be Not Proud” S7E11
One of my all time favorite shows. It’s been on the air for 30+ years, starting out as cute in-between shorts for the Tracey Ullman Show and growing into a national phenomenon, everyone has seen at the very least one episode of this show. For being on air this long, and the first full episode ever airing being a Christmas episode, the show has only focused on the topic for about half the time. And a lot of those episodes merely mention it in passing. So, out of the roughly 5 or 6 Christmas/Holiday plot heavy episodes this is my favorite.
It’s a bit more feeling heavy for a Simpsons episode. Bart ends up stealing a video game (Bonestorm!) from a local discount store and caught in the act. He is photographed and told never to return to the store, but ends up being forced to go back by Marge as she wants the family to have a photo taken. The family finds out Bart was banned from the store as the security guard rips him out of the picture just as it is taken.
A real feel-good episode, everything is worked out in the end as Bart tries to mend his fractured relationship with his mother. And don’t worry, Bart gets a video game in the end: Lee Carvallo’s Putting Challenge.
Honorable Mention: 3rd Rock From the Sun - “Frozen Dick” S1E12
This may be my favorite show of all time. There is something about how it quickly goes from brilliant humor to a hard hitting slapstick comedy in nearly an instant. All of the sweet, feel-good moments are highly tongue and cheek and therefore you never find yourself a bit embarrassed to watch it.
Anyway, I won’t get into a whole lot of detail because the plot is pretty simple. The Solomon family are aliens come to visit Earth and report back to their leader (The Big Giant Head; played eventually by William Shatner). This means each episode deals mainly with how they screw up social norms, become confused by everyday events and have to navigate the modern world not knowing anything.
This episode is how the Solomon’s react to the very first snow of the year, just as the holidays are approaching. Each member of the family is with their circle of acquaintances as the snow starts to fall, and the episode is just how they deal with it. Hint: falling snow is remarkably similar to a race of flesh devouring creatures that fall from the sky on a planet they once visited...